Homemade Sourdough Bread
If you’re new to sourdough, or haven’t had much luck baking your own bread, this simple and basic homemade sourdough bread recipe is for you.
Learning to make delicious and healthy sourdough bread your whole family will enjoy should be fun! Our every day recipe, with step-by-step instructions, makes it easy to bake traditional sourdough bread at home. If you’re new to sourdough baking, be sure to grab our eBook, Everyday Sourdough: Easy Recipes for the Everyday Baker.
Sourdough bread has become a favorite staple in our home. It’s versatile, nutritious, made with very few ingredients and relatively fool-proof. This recipe has been donned our “every day bread” because it’s perfect for dunking in soups or chili, works perfectly for sandwiches (it even slices without crumbling or squishing), however, our personal favorite is this french toast recipe!
Why is Sourdough better? Four Benefits of Sourdough Bread
- Sourdough Breaks Down Gluten – Because sourdough bread has a longer rising/soaking time, this allows for the proteins (gluten in wheat) to be properly broken down into amino acids, making it easier to digest. This is why some people who have a gluten sensitivity (NOT A TRUE GLUTEN ALLERGY) can tolerate sourdough wheat breads. (Source)
- Sourdough Bread has a Longer Shelf Life – During the fermentation process, lactic acid is created (which gives sourdough is recognizable tang) and predigests the grain for you. This acetic acid inhibits the growth of molds and gives the bread a longer shelf life.
- Sourdough is More Nutritious – Many of the simple sugars present in the grain are eaten up during the long fermentation process that sourdough bread goes through. This makes the bread easier on blood sugar levels. Because of the long fermentation process, there are also more nutrients in sourdough bread, especially B vitamins. Perhaps my favorite aspect of sourdough bread is that sourdough contains bacteria that activates phytase, an enzyme that actually breaks down phytic acid. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that’s present in all grains and seeds (to help protect them from nature) and binds to minerals in our body during digestion. By using sourdough, our body retains essential minerals. (Source)
- Sourdough is Sustainable – Sourdough bread only needs three ingredients: Flour, water and salt. Instead of needing to buy yeast for every loaf of bread, you can use your homemade starter. This cuts down on the number of ingredients needed in order to make a tasty loaf of bread.
Before You Bake Your Bread
There are a few things you’ll want to make sure before baking your sourdough bread. The first, you must have an active sourdough starter (if you don’t have a starter yet, read this post on making or obtaining a sourdough starter). Here are a few options for obtaining a starter:
- Ask a friend (they’ll gladly
throw some at youshare their bounty)
- Find a bakery (our local bakery sells it for $1.50 per cup)
- Buy a starter culture (easiest and most reliable!)
- Start your own (NOT my recommended method…someday I’ll share how I tried “catching the wild yeasts of the air”, but not today, the memory is still too fresh.)
Traditionally prepared sourdough has a slow-rise time. This slow-rise allows for the grains to be properly broken down, neutralizing the harmful anti-nutrients, so our bodies can digest them easily without causing gut issues. But don’t let the time scare you away, the hands on time is probably less than most yeasted quick breads, it just takes a little more planning ahead for that fresh warm loaf of bread.
How Much Money Does Baking Sourdough Bread Save?
A LOT! In fact, I crunched the numbers and found out my family was saving over a grand each year by baking our own bread. I then started bartering fresh, homemade bread for farm raised chicken eggs and the savings were even larger. Read how my family saves over $1480 a year by making sourdough bread at home…surely that’s enough savings to buy yourself your new favorite kitchen gadget! Mine is “Persimmon”, (see all her beauty down below!) what color would you choose?
Simple Homemade Sourdough Bread Recipe
After you’ve baked a few loaves of homemade sourdough bread, you’ll likely notice that you prefer it with less tang…or more tang. With a single rise…or a double rise. BUT, until you’re ready to start experimenting deeper, here’s a very simple, basic sourdough bread recipe to start off with.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
- 2 1/3 cups active sourdough starter
- 3 1/3 cups organic flour
- 1 Tbs. sea salt
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 Tbs avocado oil or butter, for greasing the pan
- Add sourdough starter, flour, salt and 1 cup water to mixing bowl. Using a dough hook begin mixing on low speed.
- Continue mixing for 3-5 minutes, adding water or flour if needed. Keep in mind the dough will continue to moisten as it mixes. (You’re looking for a slightly sticky dough that wants to stick to your hand, but releases when you quickly pull away.)
- While dough is mixing, grease your loaf pans.
- Once dough is smooth and elastic, scoop it out and begin to fold it in on itself, shaping it into a long loaf in your hands (kind of like a hotdog bun, then sealing off the crease). If using two smaller loaf pans, be sure to divide dough in half.
- Place dough into greased pans. Slice lengthwise, about 1/2 inch deep, down the top with a sharp knife (to promote a nice rise).
- Loosely cover loaf pans with plastic wrap.
- Let bread rise until doubled (may take 6-12 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen).
- Once dough has risen, preheat oven to 375℉. (You may melt a tablespoon of butter on the stove and brush the tops before baking if you’d like, this makes for a very pretty golden brown top, but is not a necessary step.)
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, until top is golden brown and bread sounds hollow when thumped with your finger.
- Immediately remove from pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack before slicing (if you have enough self-control!).
- Once bread has cooled completely, store in a bread box or wrap in aluminum foil.
- Be sure to start with active, fed sourdough starter, fed within the past 4-12 hours.
- Grease your pan(s) with avocado oil and add an extra teaspoon or two to the bottom of the pan. When you place your dough in the pan, give it a spin to coat all sides with oil, this eliminates the need to brush the tops with melted butter before baking and you’ll still get a nice golden brown crust.
- If your bread rises too quickly, find a cooler area of your home to set it. If it rises too slowly, try placing on top of your refrigerator, or a warmer area of your home. You’re aiming for 6-8 hour rise time to neutralize the phytic acid in the grain.
- This bread freezes very well. I like to bake two loaves at a time and throw one in the freezer for busy weeks when schedules don’t allow for bread baking.
- After 12 hours, if your bread doesn’t rise, go ahead and bake it anyway. Use the bread for croutons, bread crumbs, dunking in soup or french toast. Then, try feeding your starter a couple more times (4-6 hours between feedings) and 4-6 hours before baking. Remember, we never let an ugly loaf go to waste!
How to Get Light and Fluffy Sourdough Bread – Three Critical Steps
- A very active sourdough starter – If your starter isn’t active enough, it won’t create a nice rise for your bread. If your starter has been stored in the refrigerator, it’s been hibernating (or living in a dormant state). Likewise, if it hasn’t been fed frequently enough, it’s basically starving and won’t have enough power to make your bread rise. Plan to remove your starter from the refrigerator 2 days prior to baking and feed it at least three times (about 12 hours between each feeding).
- Knead long enough to activate gluten – Kneading is a critical step to allow gluten in the flour to activate and fully develop. If kneading by hand, you’re looking at about 20 minutes of hands-on kneading time, which can be split up to avoid arm fatigue. If you’re using a stand mixer, you’ll need less time, but you’ll also want to make sure your dough doesn’t overheat. Between 5-10 minutes should be adequate, but you might need to let the dough rest half way through mixing. If you’re not sure you’ve kneaded enough, you can do the “window pane test”. Take a small pinch of dough and stretch it, if it breads before being stretched thin enough to see light through, continue kneading.
- A long proofing (rise) time – Because sourdough is a natural yeast, it takes significantly longer to rise than commercial yeast. Plan on a 4-12 hour rise time. The time will vary based on your specific starter, how active it is, and the temperature and humidity of your home. Rise time can be manipulated and shortened by finding a warmer location in your home for your bread to rise, or by placing your loaves in a warm oven (around 100 degrees F) with a pot of boiling water. If your dough is rising too quickly, you can find a cooler location in your home. (Read more at the bottom of this post for tips on making a more sour loaf of sourdough bread!)
Sourdough Bread Tips & Tricks
- Bake bread with active sourdough starter…this is IMPERATIVE! Using sourdough starter that’s at its “peak” (meaning all the yeas has eaten, but hasn’t begun to get hungry again). An active starter will have a slight dome-shape on top.
- Typically speaking, sourdough starter peaks about 2-3 hours after each feeding. But every starter is unique, so watch yours closely and you’ll learn when your starter is at its peak.
- Don’t be alarmed by the “runny consistency” of your dough. Sourdough recipes are wetter than traditional recipes made with commercial yeast.
- Use the “press your thumb to test for springyness test” before baking…just press lightly and see if it springs back! If it does, it’s ready!
- The “window pane test” works, too (described above). Try it!
During the Rise:
- It is possible for sourdough to over-rise, if this happens, when you bake your loaf, it will become a flat, hard disk. If this happens, use the bread for french toast or croutons.
- If you cover your loaf, be sure the dough is able to expand (it should more than double in size). If you cover your dough with something that’s too heavy, or doesn’t allow for the dough to rise, it can ruin your beautiful loaf.
- Try using the following methods to get a consistent rise time: a heating pad on low, the oven preheated to 100 degrees F (then turned OFF), the oven with just the light on, the oven with a pot of boiling water. Keep testing different methods to find which one works best for you and the climate of your home.
- Remember to consider the conditions of the seasons. In our home, we burn wood heat during the winter months, so our temperatures can be much warmer (or drastically cooler) than in the summer, but also much dryer.
- Depending on your temperature, your sourdough bread may not look like it’s doubled in size. If this is still the case after 8-12 hours, go ahead and bake it anyway, it may need the heat of the oven to get it’s last “spring”.
Tips for Manipulating the Sourness of Your Sourdough Bread
Whether you’re looking for a mild taste or a more tangy flavor to your sourdough bread, you can follow these tips to manipulate your sourdough starter and dough in order to produce a bread that tastes great to you and your family.
How to Make a More Sour Sourdough
- Adjust the starter
- Adjust the dough
Lactic acid and acetic acid are the two main acids produced in a sourdough culture. The vinegar-like acetic acid is the acid that gives sourdough much of its tang. By allowing acetic acid-producing organisms to thrive and multiply, you’ll get a more tangy finished product. Here are a few ways to obtain optimal conditions for these organisms to thrive:
- Adjust the starter:
- Feed your starter more flour to create a lower hydration level. This means you’ll feed your starter a higher ratio of flour to water (by weight). Acetic acid produces more abundantly in a drier environment. For a starter with 100% hydration, you’d feed your starter equal parts water to starter to flour, by weight (example: 1 cup water, 1 cup starter, scant 2 cups flour). For a drier environment, adjust these ratios as necessary until you find your preferred “sourness”.
- Use whole-grain flours as acid-producing bacteria love whole grain.
- Stir in the hooch! Instead of pouring off that brown liquid layer that forms on a hungry sourdough starter, stir it back in and it will add acidity to help develop more tang.
- Adjust the bread dough: Achieve a longer, slower rise by adjusting the following:
- Find a cooler spot for rising the dough. Because warmer temperatures speed up fermentation, cooler temperatures will slow down fermentation.
- Punch down at least once. By punching the dough down, this allows for gasses to be released and your dough will essentially “start over” with the rise, creating a more sour dough. (You’ll need to re-shape your dough into a loaf if you add this step.)
- Add a final rise. By punching down the dough, you’re allowing your bread to rise again. Once your dough has risen, you can prolong this final rise by letting it sit overnight in the refrigerator before baking. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes before baking. (Putting a cooler loaf into a hot oven will also create a better “oven spring”.)
How to Make a Less Sour Sourdough
- Adjust the starter:
- Feed your starter regularly. How often you feed your starter will be determined by the temperature of the room your starter is in. Typically, your starter should be fed every 8-24 hours. By increasing the frequency of feedings, you’ll create a more mild, less sour taste. This reduces the alcohol content and minimizes the overall acidity of the sourdough. Less acidity = less tang!
- Adjust the bread dough:
- Use more starter in the dough. More sourdough starter in the dough allows it to both rise in a cooler location and have a shorter rising time. By lowering the acetic acid production you’ll tame the sourness. (This will likely need adjusting by season: more starter in the winter, less starter in the summer.)
- Add baking soda. Because baking soda is an alkaline substance, it will neutralize some of the acidity and give the dough a boost in rise power.
The Differences Between Sourdough Bread and Traditional Bread:
- The dough – after you’re done kneading the bread, you’re left with a much different result. Sourdough bread dough will be much looser (sometimes even pourable, depending on the recipe), whereas traditional yeasted breads will have a firm dough.
- The rise times – traditional bread will rise and be ready for the oven in less than two hours. After two hours sourdough will look like it hasn’t even budged and usually takes upwards of 6-12 hours before it’s ready for the oven.
- The total time – traditional bread can be made with half a day’s notice (nice if you want fresh bread for dinner), whereas sourdough bread takes a little more advanced planning (however, if you’ve been keeping up with feedings, you can also whip up sourdough bread in the morning to be ready for dinner!).
- Success rate – traditional bread recipes tend to be pretty fool proof and are often successful on the first try. Not to discourage you, but there’s a good chance your first (or second, third, even fourth) loaf of sourdough bread will be a “fail”. But don’t despair, there’s always a use for a failed loaf of sourdough bread. I want you to be successful, that’s why I’m warning you! So expect it, and stick with it…it DOES get easier!
The History of Sourdough
It’s believed the Egyptians were the first to discover “sour dough”, the fact that flour and water can “come alive” to create a rise for a simple loaf of bread. How they figured this out is beyond me, but then again, so are most inventions!
In early towns, bakeries and breweries would be close by, and it’s likely that someone used mash from beer in their bread and realized it was darn right delicious! It was then figured that if they kept a bit of the dough for the next batch, the natural yeast would still be active enough for their next loaf of bread.
If you’ve ever tasted true sourdough bread, you know that the flavor and texture is much better than plain, unleavened bread. Over time, it was discovered that different grains like wheat, barley and rye were suitable for bread making as well. Soon families began passing down their starter (and the skill of bread making) to the next generation.
The term “sourdough” actually has a fairly short history, dating back to the California Gold Rush days of the late 1800s. Before gold miners went up into the mountains, they would stock up on supplies and provisions from the booming coastal town of San Francisco for their journey. Starters from that area have a unique sour tang. So, the starters (and bread) from that area became known as “sourdough”.
Now the term sourdough simply refers to any natural yeast bread starter.
How Sourdough Works – The Geeky Science Stuff!
Why is sourdough unique and how does it work? Unlike commercial baking yeast, which is a single strain of Saccharomyces cerrivasae, natural leavening is a much slower process. The reason commercial yeasts work so quickly is because they’ve been selected for their very fast-acting and easy to produce properties. However, these yeasts aren’t very adaptable and are intolerant of acidic environments.
Traditional sourdough starters contain a complex blend of bacteria and yeast. The yeasts (Saccharomyces exiges, relatives of S cerrivasae) naturally thrive on the surface of grains, fruits, vegetables and even in the air and soil. The exact strains in each individual starter will vary depending on the origins of the starter.
When a sourdough starter is healthy and active, the yeast and lactobacilli will thrive in a harmonious symbiotic relationship. The yeast uses carbohydrates to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. This ethanol is then further converted by the bacteria to produce lactic acid. Carbon dioxide is present as bubbles, which become trapped in the stretchy dough, making it rise. The acidity created by the lactobacilli is inhospitable to other organisms, but great for the yeast. This helps keep a sourdough starter from going rancid by bad bacteria. If fed properly, a sourdough starter will be able to be kept at room temperature, without going bad. Because of the acidity in the bread, it will have a longer shelf life because the acid acts as a preservative, even after baking.
Did You Try This Recipe?
If you’re a lover of sourdough bread (and saving over a thousand dollars a year), then share this recipe with your friends on social media! If you have a question not addressed above, ask us in the comments below, chances are you’re not the only one with that question and others will be glad you asked.
I’ve had many failed attempts while baking bread, and had to make plenty of adjustments. Stick with it, and I’ll do my best to help troubleshoot where I can!